The Layers of Fossil Beach

What do you learn when you consider this landscape as it once was?

Hard to say, but I thought there was something worthwhile in the consideration of that idea, as there I was, on a cold and showery Saturday morning, joining perhaps thirty others, to watch the launch of a series of heritage signs at a local beach: the appropriately named Fossil Beach, ten minute walk from my home, and a place I’ve written about before.

What did we expect I wonder?

We saw signs unveiled and launched, and we heard first-hand, the stories of the family who excavated this place. Those who told the stories were children then and returned to the place. They told of regular weekends spent unpacking the debris of the past.

We heard of the shifts in the earth that sent this place askew, pushing fossils out of the base clay, the layer called Balcombe clay, and how few places there are where you can see the evidence of how such things happen.

We heard of the indigenous people who live and ate here and walked these tracks and of the shells they left in heaps through the thousands of years of their passing. We heard how their oral history of a great flood matched the geological records of the bay filling, a thousand years ago.

Then, with settlement, industry; a short-lived cement works whose remnants lie in broken stones intriguingly half-hidden in the bush; this is progress you might be seduced into thinking, putting these stones together which have already gone to pieces.

Later, we heard of a young woman artist who painted the ruins of the cement works, a Romantic gesture like Wordsworth’s salute to the ruins of Tintern Abbey. She was eighteen, taught and influenced by the colonial artist Eugene von Guérard. An expert talked lovingly of the perspective and the frame; she’d spent months researching the provenance of the frame; what Melbourne company might have made this.

What do you learn from all this? Maybe you learn about the layers. First the primeval. The geological, the tectonic.

Then indigenous, their stories of the Bay as a great, open swampland, before the ocean rushed in, that ancient memory story, now backed by scientists.

How quickly progress became nostalgic in the art of the ruined romantic landscape.

And, finally, stories of the near-present, the place bordered up with warning signs and cyclone fencing, for years you couldn’t get in.

We listened to the speeches with rain coming in bursts from over the bay. Looked at the arrangements of rocks and the place where the tower was. A month later, and two of the fresh new heritage signs have been ‘tagged’ by some teenage vandal eager to leave his incoherent layer to all this as well.

The layers of the past
The ruins of the Cement Works
Unveiling one of the signs
Aboriginal sites

In Ruins

From Russia With Love

As one who has been intrigued by ruins and remnants of the past long before I read Christopher Woodward’s In Ruins, ages ago, I was interested in this blog posting about Seven Abandoned Cities, with its accompanying evocative images.

I’m not totally sure whether it’s the historical cataclysms that have left these places un-improved, the human stories and poems that they tell, the strange beauty in these fragments of lives or something else, but it’s something that has always interested me, and recurred often in my own writing. The past, the pastness of the past. Lives that were just as vibrant and intensely lived as now, but now which aren’t.  The marble statues on Delos in the Greek Islands, the abandoned farm-house at the edge of the suburbs, the remains of the cement works at Fossil Beach, the rusted foundations in the rocks of an old pier, these things ring with meaning for me.

Poetry and Art

Reminded about again today about the intimate connection between poetry and art with Pat Pillai’s latest contribution;some images of ruin and poetry in the suburban margins part of the website. The connections between the art, and the thinking and the poems are obvious, and point again to the visual medium that is poetry. This week I’m going to the launch of a new exhibition of paintings by Graeme Drendell so no doubt the connections will be raised again.

Painting the Ruins by Pat Pillai


two new books added to my ever-growing wishlist this morning after reading some reviews

1 Dead Man’s Chest: Travels after Robert Louis Stevenson by Nicholas Rankin. I’ve always liked RLS, from reading books like ‘Kidnapped’ and especially ‘Treasure Island’ as a kid. Later I read a travel book called ‘Footsteps’ I think, which followed one of RLS’s journey’s with a donkey through Europe.

2. In Ruins by Christopher Woodward – If you’ve ever read any of my poems here you’ll know the fascination I have with ruins, the broken things of history, the aesthetics of the fallen. Auden used to like the ruins of tin mining; I can understand that!